Publicity and Other Catastrophes

Love and Other Catastrophes was one of the sweet surprises of the past year's film-festival circuit, a breezy, exuberant screwball comedy with charm to spare about one eventful winter day in the lives of several friends-male and female; gay, straight and confused-on an Australian college campus. Film students Mia (Frances O'Connor) and Alice (Alice Garner) are looking for a third roommate for their grungy new loft. Mia's girlfriend, Danni (Radha Mitchell), wants to move in, but Mia studiously avoids the topic. Alice is a perfectionist. She swooningly mistakes classics student and part-time gigolo Ari (Matthew Dyktynski) for her perfect match; she continues to procrastinate on her years-late thesis called "Doris Day as Feminist Warrior." Dreamy med student Michael (Matt Day) is also looking for a roommate and a mate. From classroom to coffee shop and back again, the slender but rapid-fire plot also takes in the complications Mia endures when she tries to switch departments, ranging from basic bureaucratic indifference all the way to a professor dropping dead over a jelly donut. Melbourne native Emma-Kate Croghan's first feature is remarkably assured for a $35,000 project assembled by a few friends just out of school (and written in only two weeks). There are one or two awkward interludes-notably the jokes in a film class where Spike Lee and Woody Allen are offered clumsy homage-but the script by Croghan, Yael Bergman, Helen Bandis and Stavros Efthymiou is mostly fresh and wry, prompting warm smiles throughout the movie's just-right eighty-minute length. Studded with ironic intertitles such as poet Nikki Giovanni's line, "We love because it's the only true adventure," the film also partakes of a kind of gentle post-modern pastiche that continued in my first conversation with the quick and articulate Croghan in Toronto in September; it rapidly degenerated into a cheerful ping-pong match of dueling quotes and anecdotes. Croghan, now 25, has been touring on the film since last May's Cannes Film Festival. In Toronto, she was dead tired and seemed very much the ex-film student. (Before Cannes, she was on unemployment.) When our paths crossed again at Sundance, she and her sweet-faced cast had just moved from the hot Australian summer into slushy snowfall and she thought it was hilarious that she had to buy children's-size boots. When we finally talked again at the end of a six-city road trip, as she took in the great cities of North America from the higher reaches of central-district luxury hotels, Croghan was more composed and relaxed. In the span of six months, she seemed to have grown into the role of a well-rested, respectfully reviewed director just written up in the New York Times. I wanted to know how audiences she's spoken to have taken to "Love"'s off-handed and nonjudgmental approach to dealing with the fluid sexuality of her characters. Did she get questions along the lines of, "What are you trying to say by not saying anything about them being lesbians?" Croghan laughs. "We talk about this a lot in America, more than any other place in the world. The Europeans are very intent on finding politics in the film. 'Why are you not discussing problems?' they ask. It's sort of weird that people won't talk to you about what a film is or isn't. Then everywhere there's that Generation X thing, questions like, 'Do you think your film represents... do you feel responsible...?' Now I get a lot of questions about the press. That happened in Australia near the end of the film's run. It becomes so distant from the film. 'What's it like going through this?' they all ask, wanting to make their own little Cinderella story. All the talking, it's bizarre because I just have this one little film." But she's not ungrateful. "Some of this discussion may make it sound like I'm saying, 'How sad, I wish I was doing the work I wanted to do,' which is to be making another film. But the alternative would be that no one bought this film and no one is interested in seeing it. It would be in someone's garage, or under the bed, and we'd be working to pay off our debts. I think we got the better deal." While her business partner and boyfriend, Efthymiou, has been making a road movie in Australia that they hope to show at Cannes next month, Croghan has some jitters about what will come next in her own career. "Of course, we had expectations for our film. We hoped that it would get finished, but we certainly could not foresee this. You get to travel a lot but that's not your life, you're not concentrating on the next film, your real work. It takes you away and you have to spend a lot of time remembering and reminding yourself of why you wanted to do this in the first place." What she and her friends wanted to do was simply finish a feature. They pooled their ideas and designed a film that could be made for next to nothing. "It sounds cynical, but it wasn't a cynical exercise," she says. "It came from passion and desire, a passion to make a film and a passion for screwball comedy. And a desire to make a film about people our age that was made by people our age so that the experience somehow had this immediacy and energy to it. In Australia, a lot of older people came. Then they would say, 'It reminded us of what it meant to be young.' I became very aware of the fact that every generation thinks that their experience of being young is completely unique. But it's not. Aspects of it are, but the energy and the expectancy of that age are pretty timeless."

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